Pawan Khera, the national spokesperson of the Congress, on Sunday sent a notice to Electronics and Information Technology and Communications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, and Twitter for deleting his tweets which criticised the Centre for allowing the mass gathering in Kumbh Mela in Uttarakhand.
On April 24, Twitter India removed tweets on the Centre’s orders as they were found to be criticising the Central government for the mismanagement of the second wave of Covid-19. The government had directed Twitter to take action on the grounds that the specified tweets violated India’s IT Act 2000.
In his now-deleted tweet on April 12, Khera had quoted an ANI news story that questioned the Centre for “allowing mass gatherings at Kumbh Mela” in Uttarakhand’s Haridwar.
Khera’s notice stated that the tweet questioned the “silence of people on the large gatherings during election rallies”, “double standards” of the people who had criticised the Tablighi Jamaat in 2020 where people were blamed for spreading Covid-19 and the “maintenance of complete silence of the government and people” on the huge gatherings at the Kumbh Mela.
Twitter had taken down the tweet on April 24 and mailed Khera. “In the interest of transparency we are writing to inform you that Twitter has received a legal removal demand from the Government of India regarding your Twitter account, @Pawankhera, that claims the following content violates India’s Information Act, 2000,” read Twitter’s mail to Khera.
Khera’s tweets, however, were deleted only in India, in accordance with Indian laws, and will be available elsewhere, Twitter’s mail added.
Stating that it was a “violation of freedom of speech”, Khera’s notice described the “arbitrary, illegal and mala fide withholding” of his tweets as an “abuse of regulatory power” and an “attempt to scuttle the voice of the opposition”. He mentioned that it declined his “personal liberty to express his views in the interest of the country and its people”.
The notice further pointed out that the tweet did not exhibit or fall under violence, terrorism or violent extremism, child sexual exploitation, abuse or harassment, hateful conduct, suicide or self-harm, sensitive media including graphic violence and adult content, which are publicly available rules that could prohibit the post.
My legal notice to @rsprasad @OfficeOfRSP & @Twitter for pulling down of my tweet exposing double standards on #KumbhMela & #tablighijamaat
श्री रवि शंकर प्रसाद एवं ट्विटर को मेरे कुम्भ मेला व तबलिग़ी जमात पर दोहरे मापदंड पर किए ट्वीट हटाने को चुनौती देते हुए क़ानूनी नोटिस pic.twitter.com/VKLu3wBcr6
— Pawan Khera (@Pawankhera) April 25, 2021
Demanding the withdrawal of all directions issued by the Centre to Twitter, withholding the tweets which abrogate freedom of speech and personal liberty, the notice sought to restrain Twitter from initiating any further action in this matter.
Twitter had also taken down tweets by West Bengal labour and law Minister Moloy Ghatak, filmmakers Avinash Das and Vinod Kapri, actor Vineet Kumar Singh, Member of Parliament Revanth Reddy, journalist Pieter Friedrich, Congress MP Anumula Revanth Reddy, Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Vickram Chaturvedi, and several others.
Approximately nine lakh people had taken a dip in the Ganga river in Haridwar on the occasion of Kumbh Mela, a major Hindu pilgrimage and festival, by April 14. According to Uttarakhand government’s data, daily Covid-19 cases in the state accelerated from hundreds to thousands and it recorded over 2,000 to 3,000 cases from April 14. India recorded 28,13,658 active cases till Monday.
People soon began criticising the Centre’s policy of allowing such a massive public gathering while the country was reeling under the second wave of Covid-19. The second wave of Covid-19 has been taking a heavy toll on the country’s healthcare, with thousands of people dying due to lack of oxygen, ventilators, hospital beds, vaccines and medicines. While several celebrities, politicians and citizens have been sharing details of oxygen suppliers, vaccinations and healthcare facilities, many people have been criticising the Centre’s inability to tackle the situation and discrimination based on religion.
In March 2020, when Covid-19 cases had just started taking claiming lives in India, reports said that over 600 cases were recorded in two days due to 9,000 people attending the Tablighi Jamaat gathering in the Nizamuddin area in New Delhi. India had recorded 2,301 cases in a day, and several Central government ministers had blamed it on a specific community.
[Additional inputs by Shrija Ganguly]